PR: Now & Next

I love a good event. A party, a festival, a summit or even a conference. Offer me the chance to be around people, learn something new, see new places...well, I've already grabbed my notebook and some business cards.

Balcom in Washington DC

A few months ago the PRSA Southwest District team announced the line up for a June event in Austin called Keep PR Weird, a nod to Austin's famous phrase to encourage uniqueness in local culture and enterprise. It has been years since I attended a public relations conference so I couldn't wait to hear what other PR pros believe to be the nuggets we all need to know this year. Notebook in hand (and colleague Susan Schoolfield in tow), I captured some things I think are now and next in the industry based on the 10 sessions I attended over two days. If we were chatting over dinner, here are the highlights that I'd share with you.


Storytelling is a sure way to connect with others. Speaker and columnist Dave Lieber does it every day writing for the Dallas Morning News. His best advice is to go for solid story construction: set the scene, dialogue it out in full and help people live through the moments. Everyone loves a good story...and every person (or product, or company) has one.

Stay intentional about tracking and retaining good PR talent. Good people do good work, summarized Starr Million Baker of Ink PR during her session. She's got a point because talent is what we're asking our clients to believe in every day. In our business, creative and strategic people seem to thrive best under freedom and encouragement. Treat people right, provide a motivating environment, and watch what happens.

Be an advisor, not an order taker. As an account director, I feel great responsibility to meet client requests. But, this is a powerful reminder from Stacy Armijo of Pierpont Communications, who talked about reputation and influence being central to healthy client relationships. We're all seeking the client's success, yet our job as public relations professionals is to interpret, counsel and advise.

Manage a crisis situation in a 21st century way. Every one should have a crisis plan in place, particularly for communications needs. Now is the time to try tactics like video updates to spread news fast, the way that the team at the Austin Humane Society has recently done with great success. And while you're at it, go ahead and think beyond the typical protocol. What would your team need to survive a multi-day crisis situation? Batteries, phone chargers, water bottles and granola bars, etc., are all good ideas for a go bag. Your team will think more quickly on their feet if the basics are a given.

We're in a 1440 news cycle--act accordingly. There are 1,440 minutes in a day--and you'd better believe that news is being developed during each one of them. No stranger to high pressure and quick deadlines, Jenifer Sarver of Burson-Marsteller's Austin office has blazed the campaign trail and served as counselor to government officials. I'm in full agreement with her reminders to respond quickly and be ready. And, her commitment to persuade--not bludgeon—others in a fast-moving environment is right on target.


Data gatherers as the rising influentials in any company. I can almost hear the Balcom team saying a resounding yes to this one. We're committed to analytics, key words, and online insights because of what they can tell us about the customer. The people who know where to find the data are the researchers we all need...and who all marketers need to become. The WCG team's presentation on building digital stories through analytics emphasized that there is no better channel for awareness than social media.

Communications managers as the first responders to any situation, particularly critical ones. It's a true saying that as social goes, so goes the story. That means the PR pros and community managers monitoring and responding online are setting the new framework for managing disasters. The team who worked on recent hurricanes in Louisiana kept us on our toes during this presentation. My favorite take away? We don't do PR for the disaster. We do PR for the info people need. I happen to think that is both well said and right on. Read more about my recommendations in this recent blog post on crisis needs.

Annual reinvention in messaging. The team from the Austin-based South By Southwest Conferences & Festivals (SXSW) puts on a new event every year, and they push for the brand to undergo review as part of the preparation. The messaging has to be timely, fresh and on track. I also loved what the PR team shared about how programming, partnerships and production are a modern publicist's job description. You'll find that every public relations professional at Balcom operates in this way: we seek to keep it current and work with clients on the details. And, we'll encourage you to stay relevant by thinking of what's next in regular strategy sessions.

Balancing shrinking newsrooms with more outlets for coverage. It is no surprise that traditional media newsrooms are shrinking, while reporters are balancing more beat areas than ever. In this day and age, we're all being asked to do more with less. Recognize, though, that the flip side of that PR challenge is that there are more opportunities for content than ever with blogging, online publishing, social and other outlets. Smart, strategic media relations professionals will help their clients make the most of all opportunities each time they pitch and share a story, as a panel of PR pros stressed. Our team at Balcom, for example, searches more than just media databases when we're looking for the right outlet for our clients.

Honest, proactive responses delivered even more quickly. The most talked about moment came during a passionate closing session with Katherine McLane with the LIVESTRONG Foundation. When their founder Lance Armstrong proved that he had been deceitful on multiple fronts, the organization took a lot of criticism, even while they took tough action by cutting off an official connection with him. Through it all the organization's messaging pointed back to the mission: to provide cancer support for millions. You could find that statement in the press, in social media and lots of places, asking people to #fightwithus. That simple response put the situation in perspective for an upset public back when the crisis broke, and it is still fresh now. More than being the right thing to do, it was the right message for all that is now and next.

What do you think is next in PR? Tell us in the comments! 


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